alien nation

it’s been a while since i’ve been directly questioned about my english-speaking abilities.

i’m used to being greeted with “how are you?”, or “good morning”, or “what can i do for you?”, or just plain “hello” as a customer. so, i was kind of taken aback when i was hit with a “do you speak english?”, which were the first words out of the pastry shopkeeper’s mouth. it didn’t strike me as strange at the moment, so i gregariously replied (in the most sophisticated pronunciation i could squeeze into one syllable) “yeah”. i threw in a bit of an australian accent for good measure afterwards. later, however, i realized that this was the first had been directly questioned about my english skills in long time. previously, attempts were made to put me in ESL when i entered elementary and middle schools, but i always slipped out of that, and some college applications required that i take the TOEFL, but i avoided that too. granted, this incident took place in a the pastry shop in enumclaw, where, well, it wouldn’t be inaccurate to say that places east of the cascades are whitewashed. anyways, it also struck me that “do you speak english” was a dumb question, since 1) if i didn’t speak english, i wouldn’t be able to answer her question, and 2) i don’t think an asian could get this far into central washington without being able to speak english. i have to give her credit — it was better that she checked with me directly instead of assuming that i couldn’t speak english, or asking my white companion if i spoke english. it just bothered me that i was taken at face value due to my race, like i was a book being judged by its cover.

it’s clear that minorities inspire doubt, alientating them from their fellow white citizens, and thus constitute an alien nation.


2 responses to “alien nation

  1. Wow.

    As a life long resident of Enumclaw, all I can say is that you ran into an idiot.

    Idiots, as I’m sure you’re aware, can be racist as well as uneducated and/or simply stupid.

    An example would be painting an entire community with the paintbrush of racism because of the isolated actions of one person.

    Generalizations are damaging to both parties.

    Hope you have a better visit next time.

  2. i don’t think that the person was an idiot, i just think she was unused to dealing with people who looked like they spoke another language. i didn’t mean to imply that she was a bigoted or anything, and she certainly didn’t act like racist (at least not in my book).

    i assure you that racism was not the theme of my post. i don’t think i accused anyone or any community of being racist. at least, i didn’t mean to, so i’m sorry that you understood it that way. i hope your implication that i “paint[ed] an entire community with the paintbrush of racism” doesn’t make us both as idiots, since you did assume that i was as the kind of writer who would wield a paintbrush of racism “because of the isolated actions of one person” when i was actually concerned with sentiments of alienation — NOT racial discrimination. i regret that you took offense at my post, for it wasn’t about racism, and it wasn’t meant to associate the community of enumclaw with the concept (though i understood how the association was made, and for that, i apologize).

    i only meant to use this incident as an example of how minorities feel alienated when english-speakers question their language abilities, or even when they construe these thoughts of alienation as accusations of racism. i simply wanted to write something about my experience as a minority growing up in america. perhaps i should not have mentioned enumclaw explicitly, but i assure you that i don’t think any less of the town as a result of this incident. the pastry shop was a pleasant place; it just threw me an unexpected question that inspired less-than-sunny reflections. my apologies again that you felt my post had a racist flavor.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s